10 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching Suburgatory

by Tessa

I’d finished Breaking Bad. The new New Girl was under Hulu embargo. I watched all of Don’ Trust the B*tch in Apt. 23 when I visited Rebecca (it counts as bonding, ok?). Make it Or Break It was sadly cut short in its prime. I still am resisting Gossip Girl for some reason. What was I to do with my “turn off the brain” time?

Then I read an article about Suburgatory. Which I can’t find right now. But it does exist, because it’s too boring of a reason to make up. I felt compelled to watch it, because A. the girl’s name is Tessa, and I have to scrutinize all bearers of my name who appear in popular media B. the article compared it to the WB’s Popular, which I remember liking and should watch again and C. it’s on ABC which is apparently home to all shows that I will become addicted to.  But what, you may ask, is the particular appeal of this show?

1. A Gilmore Girls-style family pairing

In no way are Tessa and George fast-talking homebody small-town bffs like Rory and Lorelai, but they are a father and daughter who have grown up with only each other, have their own inside jokes, and, because George has moved Tessa out to the richie-rich suburbs of Chatswin, NY, they have a us-against-the-world vibe going on. It’s touching to see and a little different than some of the nuclear family stuff or blended family stuff you see on sitcoms.

2. Suburb satire

The cafeteria offerings.

Everyone in Chatswin is obliviously ridiculous and the set designers and writers aren’t afraid to go over the top, while keeping everyone human.  After all, we’re supposed to see why Tessa feels like she’s an alien but also see how she can get used to the Chatswin bubble. So the water fountain in the school has fresh lemons and limes in its holding tank, and prime rib and sushi for lunch. There ends up being a pet kangaroo for one of the characters. Dallas, the lonely wife who commissions a skylight from George only to become his first new Chatswin friend and a strange kind of mother figure for Tessa, opens up a store that sells only crystal, as in blocks of crystal etched with portraits of loved ones, crystal chef hats, and crushed crystal called “Tears from Heaven.” The Halloween episode this season is about “The Witch of Chatswin” who ends up just being… a feminist.  And the bumbling, self-absorbed, but genuinely enthusiastic guidance counselor, Mr. Wolfe, comes out to the student body by saying something like “I’m gay, which means I will now be driving a Mazda Miata.” I think the best part about the absurdity of Chatswin is that it’s not all in your face suburb satire all the time. It comes out in one-off jokes and sub-main plotlines, and no one reacts to it except for Tessa and George, which heightens the feeling that this is real life for these people.  It doesn’t stop to explain itself and that’s funny.

3. A great cast

Although I think Jane Levy is cute as a button, droll, and good at stomping around like a real teenager, she still seems a little too old to be believable. Luckily, the good attributes outweigh the weirdness, Jeremy Sisto and the other main cast members are great (more on that later), and George and Tessa’s next door neighbors played by are Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell. Jay Mohr plays Dallas’ oft-travelling husband who is mainly worried about shoes being worn in the house while he’s gone. Mr. Wolfe is played by Rex Lee from Entourage; I don’t know if that means anything to anyone but he’s really funny on this show. Tessa’s next door neighbor and best friend comes to us from Weeds, and even though I’m sad to see that she lost her normal body to become thinner and blonder as the seasons progress, she’s still hilarious and a treat every time she’s on screen, so it hasn’t affected her character. And she did just graduate high school (omg) so I shouldn’t judge at all because bodies are still settling into themselves and forget I said anything.

4. Jeremy Sisto acting funny.

Sisto has played so many douchey characters that it’s surprising to see him play a dad. A normal, slightly neurotic single dad who attempts to make his daughter break a date by planning a surprise board game night with her friends.

And it works! Except when he tries to date Alicia Silverstone. I didn’t buy that at all.

5. The Mean Girls aren’t really mean.

Dalia, the daughter of Dallas and what passes for Tessa’s nemesis, is clearly modeled on Paris Hilton, with her blonde hair, eyes ringed with smudgy black eyeshadow, and deadpan delivery of all her lines, often ending with a crisp “bitch.”  Her minions are, as so often is the trope, foolish followers. No one, though, is really following them, and no one is really their target. (Except for one instance in the pilot episode, and I think the writers realized their misstep after that).

Most people at Chatswin High have their own money and social status, which makes for an almost neutral playing field.  We catch glimpses of nerdy characters, but they are clearly preoccupied with their AP classes, and Tessa, who often interacts with and is therefore insulted by Dalia, has too much self-esteem to let it effect her. Dalia’s insults are more because she has no etiquette or filter between her brain and her mouth, rather than a desire to hurt anyone. If anything, she just wants people to go away because she’s so solipsistic, not have a crowd of worshipers following her. It’s kind of refreshing.

6. Awkward neighbor is not really awkward

Lisa might be my favorite character on Suburgatory. She starts out being a flustered girl who wears a cream-color based palate, accented with tiny flowers, bullied by her controlling mother. Early in the first season we have this exchange at the end of a forced neighborly dinner between the Shays and the Altmans:

Lisa: May I be excused? I’m having a terrible time.

George: What about dessert?

Sheila: Lisa can’t have dessert.

George: Whu-uh, Why not, the sugar?

Sheila: No.

But she slowly takes a page from her own mother’s book and uses it to rebel against her tyrannical reign. And I don’t think it’s all due to Tessa’s Manhattan influence. You can just tell that that spark was living inside of Lisa, waiting to start burning. Everything she says has this undercurrent of plotted derangement, and there’s no episode about how she’s afraid to get a boyfriend. She just gets one, no angst, and proceeds to gross Tessa out with her PDAs.  (And her boyfriend, Malik, is also a funny character. He’s mostly a well-rounded dude who is very into the school paper, but is also part of a Medium fan club and will very occasionally be seen to dress like Patricia Arquette.)

Lisa is disgusted by high fives.

7. Cheryl Hines rocks her character, and has the best accent.

Cheryl Hines plays Dallas, and she imbues the stereotype of a bored trophy wife with real charm.  Then she subverts the stereotype by being a happy-go-lucky loon, not at all weighed down by the grim business of beauty. And she has the weirdest accent that is not southern, but sort of is. If a voice could be “tangy” that would be Dallas’s voice. Here’s the first time we get to hear it:

8. Alan Tudyk’s crazy smile.

9. Jane Levy plays a kind of reverse teenage Carrie Bradshaw/Daria/Cady from Mean Girls hybrid and it somehow works.

Ostensibly Jane Levy’s Tessa is the crux of Suburgatory. It’s her life that is being upended and her voiceover that delivers the Carrie Bradshaw-like homilies at the end of the episode. As you can tell, though, the show is about much more than Tessa.  Instead of a woman embracing the big city and writing about it, Tessa is forced to embrace the suburbs and live… about… it. And instead of being fashion obsessed and finding herself she’s obsessed with being true to herself and not caring about fashion (her outfits are still cute).  She wears motorcycle boots and skirts and plays the outsider/observer, but she’s also not so invested in that role that she won’t become involved in the world of Chatswin. And she’s not too cool — in fact, when she goes out of her way to define her coolness it ends up making her look dorky, and that’s very endearing.  For instance, her favorite band plays at her 16th birthday party and for the first song it’s just her rocking out on the dance floor, with that face that means that you’re REALLY FEELING THIS SONG more than ANYONE ELSE, and when a poetry class is being taught by a tattooed teacher, Tessa trips all over herself to try to be the star pupil, creating a monster of a mother poem in the process.

the I’m Feelin’ It face

Which leads me to my last reason–

10. Because if there’s going to be a character named Tessa on American TV, I’m cool with this one.

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51 Comments

  1. LOVE Suburgatory!! Great post!

    Reply
  2. I haven’t missed a single episode of Suburgatory as am hog on it.I like Tessa because she is not affected by the suburbans wealth and superficiality, Dalia is marvelously simple annoying.

    Reply
  3. Suburgatory has been one of my favorite addictive shows since it came out last year (good call on New Girl as well – equally funny show). I keep telling people it is television gold but I am finding some hold outs. I am forwarding this post to a few people and posting it on my FB page – everyone should be watching this show. If for nothing else but the episode where Dallas has her sorority sisters in town and two weeks ago when the one and only Jon Benjamin guest starred – Sterling Archer is my favorite character of all time and I just about died when I saw him on there as (what else) Dallas’ life coach. Seriously, thank you, Tessa, for posting and letting the world know 10 dead on excellent reasons to watch this show.

    Also, agreed, ABC has become a go to station for me since Modern Family.

    Lastly, how can you not buy Jeremy Sisto and Alicia Silverstone….I’m old though so looooooved the Clueless re-unite. :-)

    Reply
    • yay! thanks for sharing the suburgatory love.

      not sure why sisto and silverstone weren’t working for me; maybe they made her character a little too unbearable?

      Reply
      • she was a bit over the top but isn’t that how she is in real life? lol and he is soooooooo cuuuute. I love him and Dallas I hope this lasts!

  4. TERRIfic Words

     /  November 13, 2012

    My name isn’t Tessa and I don’t watch the show but I think your reasons are so cute. LIke you, I am inclined to watch any show or movie where the character has my name. There aren’t that many Terri’s in the world who are female and don’t go by Theresa.

    Reply
  5. I like the way you wrote and styled the article. Will have to check out the show. The producers need you on their team for promotions.

    Reply
  6. workspousestory

     /  November 13, 2012

    I absolutely adore that TV series. Congrats on getting freshly pressed ;)

    Reply
  7. rebecca93dallman

     /  November 13, 2012

    I LOVE Suburgatory! Im so glad you wrote this because it sums it up perfectly! People should really watch this programme.

    Reply
  8. I watched this show for the first time last night. It was really good, I was pleasantly surprised. Kinda mad eme wish I’d watched it from the start! I also took some enjoyment from the fact I suddenyl relaised I recognised George. At first I thought Wrong Turn, but then I realised…Elton! Which sparked some silly quoting of clueless. He’s aged well btw, and plays the character well. (He was also in wrong turn it turns out too)

    Reply
  9. I love ‘Suburgatory!’ Tessa and Lisa are my favorite characters. I think Jeremy Sisto is fabulous, and you’re right: they are a sort of Gilmore Girls’ version of father-daughter. My mom loves Dahlia and she does have some of the best lines. But I must say I like the bitter quirkiness of Lisa and her mom Sheila Shay. They’re fantastic!

    Reply
  10. I also have to agree that Suburgatory is an awesome show, and Cheryl Hines is especially funny!

    Reply
  11. Great show, and Jane Levy really is an amazingly good actress. She’s perfect in her part and delivers the best little reaction shots.

    Reply
  12. Love this show! Loved your post ~ inspired me not only to watch, but to create as well! I did my own post ;)

    Reply
  13. Love this show!!

    Reply
  14. 1 reason I can’t watch Suburgatory (the second season anyway) – I live in the UK!

    Reply
    • boo! but at least you have other great tv, right? I love Skins… and the IT Crowd, and the In Betweeners

      Reply
      • Yes, we do! The Inbetweeners never fails to make me laugh even though is has come to an end. As for other good American TV, new seasons of The Big Big Theory and 2 Broke Girls start over here in a few days :) It’s a shame, but we have to wait a bit longer for American programmes.

  15. hahahaha..I love it because I always wondered ”what the heck is a ‘pleasant nightmare?”…till I found out…great post!!

    Reply
  16. been kind of avoiding this show but your post makes me intrigued!!! maybe i’ll give it a try when i’m done with homeland!!!!!!! x

    Reply
  17. I actually thought my husband and I were the only people who watched Suburgatory because I never heard anyone else talking about it. Ha! Guess I was wrong! At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the show because I wasn’t sure, like yourself, if Jeremy Sisto could pull off being a dad. He does a pretty good job. Hopefully your post will stir more people to the show.

    Reply
  18. I love this programme. It’s hilarious but none of my friends watch it. It’s good to see that someone else loves it too!

    Reply
  19. Yay I love all these US shows, especially Suburgatory, but why are even the total geeks really hot? In UK shows we like to represent a realistic image of your average high school kids, be they chubby, scrawny, spotty or down right plain… Gossip Girl is definitely worth a watch – they’re so deadly serious about their tedious upper class problems but I can’t get enough! I think it’s the wardrobe budget I envy so much…

    Reply
    • yeah, I agree, the casting is very homogenized. I think even in a place like Chatswin there would be a little more diversity in body shape & color of skin! But that’s US tv for you.

      Reply
  20. I’m sooo glad that there’s someone else, other than me, who recognizes the greatness that is Suburgatory! I can’t wait for Wednesday nights; I absolutely love this show! I’ve been hooked since it debuted last year. Great post my friend!

    Reply
  21. Reblogged this on Pink Pearls and commented:
    Suburgatory is a great show and Tessa has a rather refreshing take on the series…

    Reply
  22. It looks like such a funny show, and I always want to watch it, but then I forget…story of my life haha great post, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    Reply
  23. I love this show too, and am the only one of my friend who does. I just love the off-hand humour of it!

    Reply
  24. Love this show!

    Reply
  25. My daughter and I have been watching this show since it debuted. We love it. Occasionally they make a weird left turn, usually involving something sexual, but the majority of the time it’s hilarious. Great review!

    Reply
  26. Reblogged this on blueblaq.

    Reply
  27. Love this. I think there is more as well! Thanks for this great blog!

    Reply
  28. I don’t know why I wasn’t watching Subugatory last season, but its new place in a Modern Family/Nashville sandwich means I don’t forget about it! (Yes, sometimes I just leave the TV on while I wander around the house and do laundry.) Sisto! Parnell! Gasteyer! Hines! Tudyk! That girl from Weeds! Yay!

    Reply
  29. Tessa, thank GOD you wrote this post because I’ve flicked past Suburgatory so many times wondering: should I? shouldn’t I? I mean, it has Jeremy Sisto and it’s called Suburgatory! On the other hand, it has Jeremy Sisto and is called Suburgatory. Thank you for setting me straight (and probably filling my Saturday afternoon . . .)!

    Reply
  1. Sitcom Spotlight: Suburgatory « a.clore interiors

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